At least publicly, no other Cork footballer gives a more honest appraisal of where the team are than Paul Kerrigan.
When he puts them side-by-side with Kildare, he sees differences in Cork’s favour. But then he figures the opponents view the Munster champions as more of a quarry than other provincial victors like Dublin,” he says.
“I’d like to think that we’re better than them because we’ve won a bit more than them, but that’s not going to matter on Sunday.
“They’re looking to take a big scalp and they’d probably prefer to be playing Cork than the likes of Dublin, they might see us as a more vulnerable target.”
Why? Do Cork have less of a mystique about them?
“I don’t know, that’s just the way it seems. They might see us as coming in colder with just two games under our belts.”
Kerrigan has grand ideas, though. He makes no secret of what he wants this Cork team to be remembered as.
“We want to win an All-Ireland anytime, but Cork have won seven All-Irelands in football and almost every time they’ve won it, they haven’t kicked on to dominate.
“You’d like to leave a legacy like that, to be seen as one of the best teams to have come out of Cork. There is that burning hunger.”
His sincerity extends to his own game, which he admits wasn’t where it should have been earlier this season. It wasn’t until the second half of the Division 1 final against Mayo that he felt things were finally coming together for him.
“It [the league] was very frustrating because I probably trained harder than I ever had in the off-season.
“I had no club commitments and no college and I did a lot by myself to keep fit. I remember looking at my diary in January and February and I was probably overdoing it. I took one day off in each month, which was probably too much.
“Then, having poor form and over-training, there was a lot of frustration, but by the end of the league I relaxed a bit and the second half against Mayo was probably my turning point.
“I’m happy enough with how things have gone since.”
He says there’s “definitely more” in him and is enthused by how Cork have altered their tactics to provide forwards with quicker ball.
“I think we’ve tried to change our philosophy by going a bit longer in general, not just the forwards but the backs are probably kicking a bit more too, which is great from the forwards’ point of view as you get the ball earlier.
“It brings a different focus and depending on the opposition, we mightn’t use the high ball to Aidan [Walsh] or Nicky [Murphy] inside, but it just gives them [opposition] that concern that it could happen.”
He looks around him and feels the intensity in the camp is at the right pitch coming into an All-Ireland quarter-final despite the four-week break from beating Clare.
The appetite is evident too, he says, when it may not have been at the same stage last year when Mayo sent them packing from the championship.
“When the All-Ireland finished, you had that kind of winter. We came back from South Africa at the end of January and it takes a while to get going.
“The hunger probably wasn’t there compared to the year before and then you had the injuries to the lads [Sheehan, Goulding, O’Neill] and Graham [Canty] and Nicky only came on in the second half against Mayo. They were the lads making the difference in the All-Ireland final the year before.
“I think we’re in a much better place this time around, but there is a big performance in Kildare just like there was in Mayo last year.”
Having been deprived of action for a month and Kildare coming into the fourth game in as many weeks, Kerrigan appreciates Cork can’t feel their way into tomorrow’s game.
“We’ve often been criticised for being bad starters, that’s something we’ve focused on this year.
“Against Kerry and Clare we started well, and against Dublin and Down in the latter part of the league we did too. The start is vital, the first 10 minutes are going to be key.”
Serious study would have begun on Kildare as soon as their identity was revealed to Cork last Saturday evening. Kerrigan says a quarter of their work this week would have been dedicated to analysing Kieran McGeeney’s side.
“Obviously, Tomás O’Connor is a key player, he’s plan B if they’re stuck. He’s also very clever, in their first round against Offaly he didn’t score but he set up about seven scores.
“They mix it and they’d be very good on breaks, they’d nearly try to win the break rather than win the kick-out.
“We’ll have our homework done but that’ll only get you so far.”
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